Mead has enjoyed a fine season with Arsenal
– The FA via Getty Images
It is perhaps telling that when Beth Mead is asked to reflect upon her sensational start to the season, her mind fixes on a brief moment of inaccuracy during a match which, for everyone else, has long since been forgotten.
“I’m my own worst enemy,” the Arsenal forward admits ahead of the 2020-21 FA Cup Final on Sunday, and her biggest match of the season so far. “I scrutinise myself and, as a footballer, you’re only as good as your last game.”
Few have enjoyed as fine a start to the campaign as Mead, though, or have been as driven on by the desire for self-improvement and proving her doubters wrong.
Mead has spoken candidly this season about how her shock omission from Great Britain’s Olympics squad this summer, coupled with increased competition for places at Arsenal, motivated her to “go up another gear” – and the results of that have been spectacular.
Starting with a double at home to Chelsea on the opening day of the Women’s Super League, the 26-year-old’s goal contributions have helped fuel Arsenal’s surge to the top of the table, while at international level she has written herself into the England record books by becoming the first woman to score a Wembley hat-trick.
“Individually, I said I wanted to be consistent as a player this season,” Mead tells The Independent. “I’ve been in great form, but I’ve got to keep at that level and keep that form now.” The message, subtle but purposeful, is that there needs to be more to come.
There could be no better stage than on Sunday, however, when Arsenal face Chelsea in the showpiece final at Wembley. A match-up of the top two teams in the WSL is fitting for the first women’s FA Cup Final to be played in front of fans in two-and-a-half years.
It is fitting for Mead, too, that Sunday’s opponents and venue evoke memories of her season so far, linking together those standout displays for club and country, particularly the historic 15-minute triple for the Lionesses against Northern Ireland in October.
“It’s still crazy,” Mead says. “My mum and dad told me, ‘You’ve made history and no one can take that away from you’. I have to pinch myself about it. Great memories and ones that I’ll hold on to for the rest of my life.” A further hat-trick followed this week, one of four scored by England players in the record-breaking 20-0 win over Latvia in Doncaster.
Of the 3-2 win over defending WSL champions Chelsea on the opening day, a result that ensures Arsenal remain ahead of the Blues in the table, Mead says: “It’s always tricky the first game of the season. Not everyone is in their rhythm of new tactics and new players – but Chelsea are now. We know the threats Chelsea pose to us. They’re a great team and we’re in for a very hard game.”
Arsenal have won a record 14 FA Cups but none since 2016, with a defeat to Chelsea coming in the 2018 final in which Mead played the full match. Losing the FA Cup Final was “heartbreaking”, Mead adds, and she feels that Arsenal allowed the occasion of the day to get the better of them. It remains the only domestic trophy she is yet to win with the Gunners, and it is a competition that holds a special place in her heart.
“When I was younger it was one of the highlights of my year going to the women’s FA Cup Final,” Mead says. “Funnily enough the one that sticks out for me is Sunderland against Arsenal [in 2008]. I was 14 and Arsenal came out as winners but the likes of Jordan [Nobbs], Lucy Bronze, and Demi Stokes were at Sunderland at the time. A couple of years later I signed a contract to play for Sunderland and I remember after I joined they all ended up at Manchester City and Arsenal, and that was something I wanted to do. Luckily I’ve come to Arsenal and I’m loving every minute here but it was a ‘meant-to-be game’ to be at that cup final.”
On the back of an international break, Arsenal face a seismic five days in which they will attempt to win their first FA Cup in five years before hosting European champions Barcelona and Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas in the Women’s Champions League at the Emirates on Thursday.
Are the Gunners facing Europe’s two best teams in the space of a week? “It’s going to be a very, very tough few days,” Mead laughs. “For me, Barcelona are the best club team in the world right now and Chelsea aren’t far behind. But that is why you play football, to be involved in these games against the best players and teams in the world. It’s exciting.”
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